Bioinformatics Scientist

Bioinformatics is a field that combines analytics and data representation to make sense of the vast amounts of data generated every day. The field takes cues from the world’s organisms to build a healthier and cleaner future and has a staggering number of applications in the modern tech landscape. In the past few decades, the sheer volume of data has increased exponentially, in large part due to the growing repositories of rich biodata from the fields of genomics and molecular biology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an uptick in the percentage of bioinformatics and related positions in our economy, such as in the occupations of computer and information research scientists, biomedical scientists, and biomedical engineers.

O*NET (an affiliate of the Department of Labor) defines bioinformatics as an occupation for professionals who will “conduct research using bioinformatics theory and methods in areas such as pharmaceuticals, medical technology, biotechnology, computational biology, proteomics, computer information science, biology, and medical informatics.” Furthermore, bioinformatics professionals “may design databases and develop algorithms for processing and analyzing genomic information, or other biological information.”

As the preponderance and availability of data grows the need to interpret that data will keep pace. Mapping cancer genomes, for example, involves serious data input from thoroughly-analyzed genetic fragments. As with every other modern medical field, data analytics plays a major role in bioinformatics, even if you have no plans of studying engineering or computer science. Some basic understanding of data management and presentation are useful, as well.

Bioinformatics Scientist Specialization & Career Types

There are a number of bioinformatics scientist specializations and career types available for the scientifically-minded. They include informatics research in the following fields:

  • Microbial genomics
  • Molecular medicine
  • Personalized medicine
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Preventative medicine
  • Drug development
  • Gene therapy
  • Evolutionary studies
  • Biotechnology
  • Waste cleanup
  • Crop improvement
  • Insect resistance
  • Alternative energy sources
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Zoology
  • Animal behavioral studies
  • Climate change studies
  • Forensic analysis
  • Machine learning
  • Bio-weapon creation
  • Improvement of nutritional quality
  • Development of drought-resistant varieties
  • Veterinary science

Most careers available in bioinformatics can be found in computer information science, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, computational biology, proteomics, and medical informatics. Such professionals often develop algorithms; build databases; and present data, studies, and research to other bioinformatics professionals. Databases are typically used for processing and analyzing things like genomic information or genetic trends.

As an area of study, bioinformatics draws on biology, information technology, computer science, statistics, informatics, mathematical modeling, computational theory, data charting, data analytics, and administration.

Coursework and essential knowledge may include the following subjects: probability, statistics, computing, population genetics, molecular genomic analysis, sustainability mathematics, epigenomic data analysis, biostatistics, biological mathematical modeling, and even computational neuroscience. Bioinformatics is almost always chosen as a specialization at the graduate level. Most students come from undergraduate courses of study in fields like biology, computer science, chemistry, biochemistry, or bioengineering. In recent years, more and more undergraduate programs in bioinformatics have begun to emerge. Some of them are profiled below.

Bioinformatics is used in conjunction with many other approaches to data analytics to address the highly-specialized needs of a wide variety of clients. These jobs include the application of analytical theory, computer science, and programming to the fields of computer information science, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, computational biology, proteomics, and medical informatics.

Admissions Requirements for Bioinformatics Programs

Admissions requirements for bioinformatics programs generally include a background in the health sciences, computer science, biology, or behavioral sciences.

Bachelor’s programs typically require a minimum GPA of 3.2 and test scores (SAT/ACT) for admission. They include 120 credit-hours of undergraduate work in bioinformatics or psychology, and courses in science, humanities, philosophy, analytics, and information technology.

Master’s degree programs require candidates to submit a competitive GPA, official transcripts, and in some cases, test scores (GRE) or letters of recommendation. The graduate-level programs in bioinformatics see students diving deeper into the fields of data science, document management, and visual representation to gain a better understanding of what we can learn from all that data we generate.

Bioinformatics Program Accreditation

Students enrolling in academic programs should look into to a school’s accreditation status. Accreditation ensures that programs in bioinformatics are meeting a set of peer-reviewed standards in its curriculum. A full list of authoritative regional accreditation entities is available on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website, which is affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education.

On-Campus Bioinformatics Degree Programs

Rochester Institute of Technology

The school offers an innovative bachelor of science program in bioinformatics and data science. Its faculty combines technical, hands-on, and theoretical approaches to create an interdisciplinary degree that primes students for entrance into the field of biodata science. Expect further coursework in the subjects of biology, natural sciences, healthcare administration, and the health sciences.

  • Location: Rochester, New York
  • Duration: Three to four years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $430 per credit-hour

Rochester Institute of Technology

The Rochester Institute of Technology offers an on-campus master of science (MS) in bioinformatics degree that focuses on bioinformatics theory, data programming, proteomics, data management, data science, systems biology, and genetics. Expect additional coursework in the areas of biology, natural sciences, healthcare administration, and the health sciences.

  • Location: Rochester, New York
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $1,897 per credit-hour

Online or Hybrid Bioinformatics Degree Programs

Columbia University – The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

Columbia University offers an online master of science (MS) in computational biology degree that focuses on subjects such as data science, bioinformatics programming, bioinformatics computational methods, mathematical biology, and bioengineering. A graduate degree in computational biology is a sensible next step after undergraduate study in bioinformatics or the biosciences. A master’s degree in computational biology grants recipients many of the same skills conferred by a bioinformatics program.

  • Location: New York, New York
  • Duration: Eighteen Months to Three Years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $2,104 per graduate credit-hour

Northeastern University

Northeastern University offers an online master of science in bioinformatics that focuses on subjects such as bioinformatics programming, bioinformatics computational methods, and ethics in biomedical research. The program also offers a graduate certificate in data science. This program from Northeastern can provide prospective bioinformatics or computational biology professionals the skills, knowledge, and practical understanding that’s essential to success in the field. Northeastern University’s College of Science is a leading online institution in the field of biodata studies and boasts a faculty of expert bioinformatics professionals.

  • Location: Evanston, Illinois
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: Varies, Contact School

How Long Does it Take to Become a Bioinformatics Scientist?

The length of the road to becoming a bioinformatics professional will vary. Expect a minimum of six years of post-secondary schooling, with up to as much as ten years if you choose to pursue a PhD. Of course, this varies depending on how much on-the-job experience and training a student possesses.

How To Become a Bioinformatics Scientist – Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a bioinformatics scientist, as mentioned above, should take students a minimum of six years, and up to as many as ten years if prospective bioinformatics analysis professionals take longer to pursue more advanced degrees.

Step 1: Graduate High School (Four Years)


As a high school student, a focus on classes in the subjects of biology, data science, statistics, economics, and information technology will help to build a solid foundation for bioinformatics undergraduate study.

Step 2: Earn A Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)


Earning a bachelor’s degree in a science field with a focus in information sciences, computer studies, or information technology will set you on track for the proper course of graduate study.

Step 3: Gain Industry Experience (One Year or More)


One way to advance a career as a bioinformatics scientist is to gain work experience in the industry itself. This should help you to prepare for certification and more advanced positions, which are typically requisite in candidates being considered for positions in upper management or as clinical directors.

Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree (Two Years)


Pursuing a master’s degree in computer science, informatics, or information technology with a focus on bioinformatics or mathematical biology can open the door to the world of the top-achieving percentile of bioinformatics scientists.

Students with degrees in related fields can also pursue a bioinformatics certificate. Reputable schools offering on-campus programs include the Harvard University Extension School the University of Illinois. An online graduate certificate in data science in computational biology and bioinformatics is also an option from schools like Lewis University. The International Society for Computational Biology also maintains a comprehensive list of degrees and certificate programs in bioinformatics.

Step 5: Earn a PhD (Optional, Three Years or More)

To increase earning potential, a doctorate in bioinformatics may be pursued. This credential will allow degree holders to teach, write textbooks, or lead clinics, offices, and university departments in the bioinformatics field. Degrees in computational biology are also generally applicable to similar positions that require a doctoral level of bioinformatics knowledge.

What Do Bioinformatics Scientists Do?

Bioinformatics is used to conduct research via bioinformatics theory. Utilizing methods in areas such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, computational biology, medical technology, proteomics, computer information science, biology, and medical informatics, bioinformatics scientists are vanguards of data. Most have a background in computer science as well as a history of developing algorithms and designing databases for the processing and analysis of genomic or biological information.

They work as bioinformaticians, bioinformatics scientists, directors of bioinformatics and trait discovery, directors of translation and experimental medicine bioinformatics, directors of informatics, research scientists, scientific database curators, scientific informatics project leaders, senior research associates, and senior data scientists.

Bioinformatics Scientist Certifications & Licensure

Certification and licensure are not currently required in bioinformatics. Qualifications sought in candidates for professional opportunities in the field include the requisite educational preparation and industry experience.

That said, there are various certifications in computer languages and software that can be useful. These include proficiency in Apache Hadoop, Python, Ruby, Perl, R, MATLAB, Linux, Unix Shell, and more.

How Much Do Bioinformatics Scientists Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) reports that the bioinformatics-related field of computer and information research scientists shows a growth rate of 16 percent between 2018 and 2028, adding up to as many as 5,200 new jobs to the market.

The BLS notes that the required entry-level education for a computer and information research scientist is a master’s degree. Here is the detailed salary data in this field:

Number of professionals employed in the US (as of 2018): 31,700

  • Average annual salary: $123,806
  • 10th percentile salary: $183,820
  • 50th percentile (median): $118,370
  • 90th percentile: $69,230
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker

Writer

Kenneth is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.

Related Articles

  • 20 October 2020

    Health Equity 101: The Racial Biases of Smartwatches & Other Healthcare Tech

    In health technology, the margin of error is as thin as the blade of a scalpel. As the nation begins to confront its unconscious social biases, that introspection must extend to its technological developments as well.

  • 10 June 2020

    Health Careers on the Rise: An Interview with a Certified Genetic Counselor

    Finding out that you have a genetic predisposition for a medical condition or life-threatening illness is not an open-and-shut case. The matter does not close upon receipt of test results. In fact, it can be the beginning of a long and complicated journey with unforeseeable outcomes.

  • 11 March 2020

    Genetic Counseling and the Fight for H.R. 3235: Interview with an Expert

    Genetic counselors play a crucial role in educating individuals on their predispositions to diseases and helping them cope with what results mean for both the patients and their families. We explore why genetic counselors are necessary in a world where genetic tests are readily available on websites like 23andMe—and why the passing of a new bill could help bring these healthcare providers’ services to more patients in need.

  • 4 March 2020

    Fighting the Coronavirus: The Minds that Wage Wars Against Society’s Biological Threats

    As new cases of the infected around the world began to rise from the double digits into the triple, social media channels from Twitter to TikTok turned into a free-for-all of fear, finger-pointing and conjecture, while political and health leaders continued to tout different perspectives, adding to the confusion. Depending on which source is narrating, the problem can seem alarmingly serious or mildly disconcerting.

  • 7 February 2020

    Mentors in Health: An Interview with a Pharmacist

    Pharmacists make people feel good again. As medication specialists, they dispense prescription medications to patients and also act as consulting experts on the safe use of those substances. This is no small task: two-thirds of American adults already use prescription drugs, and an increasingly aging population will push these numbers higher.

  • 9 January 2020

    What Are the Top-Paying Biomedical and Laboratory Careers in 2020?

    Top-paying biomedical and laboratory careers require dedication to the craft and post-baccalaureate education.